Have we been breaking more and more weather records?

Most of the kerfuffle about climate change focuses on global average temperature change – despite this being a metric that no-one can personally experience by definition. It seems that 2014, if not the hottest-ever, will likely be a statistical tie for the hottest year on record worldwide. But what about other long-term data that might give a clue as to the direction of climate change, in ways that matter more to us all on a daily basis?

One area is weather records. It seems like hardly a month passes with some record-breaking weather event or other making the news. Now, if climate change were being felt, you would naturally expect more hot records than cold records, and you would expect a clustering of hot records in recent years in a way that would be unlikely through mere statistical chance. Also, given that a hotter atmosphere holds more water vapour, and climate change means an intensification of the hydrological cycle, you might expect more wet or dry records to be being set, depending on the location. But is this actually the case? Or are we simply bamboozled by news reports so that we remember recent records and forget about heatwaves a century ago?

Flooding on the River Thames at Henley in Oxfordshire, UK. Does climate change mean more of this? (c) Kathryn Anderson, via Weather magazine

Flooding on the River Thames at Henley in Oxfordshire, UK. Does climate change mean more of this? (c) Kathryn Anderson, via Weather magazine

Certainly we seem to have experienced record-breaking rainfall in recent years – as a resident of Oxford I have seen the River Thames burst its banks with increasing frequency it seems. But didn’t we also experience a record-breaking cold spell in December 2010? And I remember a few climate sceptic chuckles around the time of a heavy snowfall event a couple of winters ago. (“Where’s your global warming now?” etc) The country with the longest dataset on weather is actually the UK, so this is a good place to examine record-setting trends. In a fascinating paper just published in Weather magazine (the journal of the Royal Meteorological Society), Mike Kendon of the UK Met Office does just that.

There are some methodological issues here: many records have duplicates, such as two heavy rainfall events that are statistically very close, within a margin of error. There also needs to be a hierarchy of records – a nationwide record is more important than a regional one, a record-breaking year more significant than a month, and so on. Even given the caveats, some trends are quickly apparent, however. Here is the graph for temperature – the top chart shows actual records, the bottom chart includes records as scored in the hierarchy:

UK hot and cold temperature records for the last 100 years. From Kendon, M., 2014: Weather, 69,12,327-332

UK hot and cold temperature records for the last 100 years. From Kendon, M., 2014: Weather, 69,12,327-332

This result is striking, and accords pretty much with what we would expect with global warming (although the UK is of course not representative of the entire globe). There is a large jump in hot weather records after the 1990s, and a striking overall reduction in cold records despite variation between decades. (Note that the decade after 2010 only includes data up to 2014, so fewer records are set there by definition.) As Kendon writes:

Since 2000, there have been 10 times as many hot records (204) as cold records at all (20). No cold records at all were set during the period 2000–2009, or during 1930–1939, although there have been several since 2010, most prominently the exceptionally cold December of 2010. By contrast, a large number of hot records were set – for example in 2011 (April, spring, autumn, November and the year overall), and in 2006 (July, summer, September, autumn and the year overall). The period since 2000 accounts for two-thirds of all hot-record scores, but only 3% of the cold-record scores.

This tendency towards hot rather than cold records also applies to seasons as well as individual months:

When considering seasonal records only, the period since 2000 accounts for over 70% of hot-record scores but only 2% of cold-record scores. In a similar way, it accounts for 98% of annual hot-record scores (all but one record) but no annual cold-record scores.

The UK’s longest-running temperature data series, the Central England Temperature (CET) series, goes all the way back to 1659 – the longest in the world by far. So where are the heat records in this multi-century view?

Since 2000, the CET series has seen the warmest April (2011), July (2006), September (2006), October (2001), Spring (2011) Autumn (2006) and year (2006) – 7 out of a possible 17 records within the last 15 years of a 355-year series – with only December 2010 coming close to setting a cold record.

So once again, very much what you’d expect if modern UK temperatures were averaging at highs unprecedented in several centuries at least. But what about the precipitation data? Flooding trends are complicated by changes in built-up areas in river catchments and so on, but rainfall data should be worth a look surely? Here’s the same graphical treatment for wet/dry records:

Rainfall record counts (a) and scores (b) by decade – wet and dry. From Kendon, M., 2014: Weather, 69,12,327-332

Rainfall record counts (a) and scores (b) by decade – wet and dry. From Kendon, M., 2014: Weather, 69,12,327-332

Once again, it is pretty clear that the UK has been setting more rainfall records – so our recent news reports have not been biased by recent memory. Kendon writes:

Were we to assume no trends, we might expect a roughly steady number of records by decade – both wet and dry, but this is far from the case. Since 2000, there have been 10 times as many wet records (106) as dry records (11). Examples of recent periods where many wet records were set include 2012 (April, June, summer and the year overall) and winter 2013/2014, whereas the only prominent dry period based on this record scoring system was spring 2011. The period since 2000 accounts for 45% of all wet-record scores, with the highest record score for the 2010s – which is only half a complete decade. The 1910s also saw a clustering of wet records. By contrast, the dry-record scores remain fairly steady throughout until a pronounced reduction from 2000 onwards, the period since 2000 accounting for only 2% of dry record scores.

A flooded petrol station. Oh, the irony.

A flooded petrol station. Oh, the irony.

This is interesting because there is no increase in drought, and a big increase in rainfall records – exactly what anecdotally people think they have been seeing recently in the UK. This is also pretty much what climate models predict for the UK’s part of the mid-latitudes, where more rainfall, and more intense rainfall, is expected overall.

This also accords with the IPCC view, which is that there has been no increase in many forms of extreme weather – don’t look for a climate change signal in tornados or hurricanes, for example. But heatwaves do seem to have been getting stronger and more frequent, and there is also a signal for more intense precipitation. The UK’s dataset about record-setting gives further weight to this IPCC picture with the longest weather records in the world. Something to consider next time climate sceptics accuse scientists of overstating their case.


  1. William Hughes-Games

    I may have my wires crossed but your analysis method seems flawed . Perhaps I misunderstand. However, if I am correct, the situation is even more extreme that what you show in the bar graphs. Consider this. When you start recording some factor such as rainfall or temperature, every reading you get is a record. If the factor being measured is bouncing randomly around some mean, you would expect to see fewer and fewer records as time goes on. To be a record, the reading has to exceed the previous record and each time you have an extreme event the probability of exceeding it decreases. The fact that record events are increasing makes the case even stronger that the climate is changing.

    1. Jamie MacIver

      William – I had exactly the same thought. Obviously not done a statistical analysis, but if you look at the charts they seem to be following that trend until the 1990s, with the possible exception of a blip in the 60s.This is… less obvious… or perhaps not present with the rainfall at all. Would need to do more than a quick visual scan to establish if there’s a significant trend.

  2. Eduardo Ferreyra

    Mark, you saw the lights on GMOs and nuclear energy and changed your mind on those subjects. That was good. Now you need to change your mind about CAGW, (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming). Did you know that BBC stopped using MET’s weather prophecies because they were utterly unreliable? All they got with their multimillion Super Computer was reaching their failure predictions much faster. On the other hand, Piers Corbyn weather predictions are about 85% accurate, as shown by his unbelievable record on hitting the bull’s eye on weather predictions up to six months in advance. And he does it with a simple laptop… but using analyses of the sun magnetic activity. His last weather warning:

    Damaging storms, extreme cold and blizzards coming.
    Piers Corbyn, astropysicist and chief forecaster for WeatherAction said (00hrs TueDec 9):
    “The massive storm (map below for 10th 12noon) now heading for Britain and Ireland 9/10th bringing blizzard conditions for most parts and damaging gales or storms in all parts is essentially our top active period 5-8th extended a day or two.

    “This will then develop to set up the more Northerly VERY SEVERE SNOW AND BLIZZARD BLAST WITH EXTREME COLD AND GALES for the following period Friday 12th to Tue 16th .
    This was always forecast by WeatherAction (from 100days ahead with detail 27days ahead) to be more extreme and severe then 5-8th and that looks like what is going to hit.

    “This will probably be the most extreme 5 days of snow blizzards and and gales in Britain and Ireland for 100 years, being more severe than the worst events of December 2010 (which were also correctly forecast by WeatherAction).

    38 years ago, I also believed the “global warming” hypothesis, but after studying the data during several years, I finally saw that there is no scientific basis for such hypothesis. On the other hand, the projections based on solar magnetic activity and movement of the solar system barycenter, have shown to be so accurate that there are no possible doubts the sun’s influence of our changing climate.

    Please check the work of astrophysicists as the late Rhodes Fairbridge, Theodore Landscheidt, Habibullo Abdusamatov, or Czech Ivanka Charvátová, and their analyses going back several thousand years showing and clear influence of our Sun on our terrestrial climate. Just check Charvátová: http://www.klimaskeptik.cz/news/interview-with-dr-ivanka-charvatova-csc-from-gfu/

    1. Scott

      Interesting sly flip from weather to climate there Eduardo. Was that on purpose?

    2. Colin Reynolds

      Did you know that BBC stopped using MET’s weather prophecies because they were utterly unreliable? All they got with their multimillion Super Computer was reaching their failure predictions much faster. – See more at: http://www.marklynas.org/2014/12/have-we-been-breaking-more-and-more-weather-records/#comments

      Hmm… let me think… perhaps this supercomputer can’t crunch the numbers because the future cannot be determined from the past, given that we’re heading into unknown territory because of CAGW.

      Give it up, denier.

    3. Eduardo Ferreyra

      Well, you took your time for thinking. And came up with nonsense. Clearly your brain is not capable of functioning in a proper way… it figures, and it doesn’t surprise me, because you are a deluded warmst. Now go back to your medication.

  3. Eduardo Ferreyra

    Just in case I hace aroused your curiousity, here you will find Charvatová’s theory beautifuly explained with charts in a kind of a lecture presentation.


  4. Barry Woods

    the world records we are getting (or might get this year) are plus or minus 1 hundredth of a degree – which smacks of desperation, when the error is + or minus 1 tenth of a degree..

    and the top ten warmest years are separated by less than the error margin

    so if we hear, 2014 is the warmest year a +0.57 anomaly, vs 2010 a plus 0.56 anomaly.. that isn’t science talking. it is alarmism.

    A scientist would say the temps are basically the same with a margin of error. It could be cooling or warming by -+ 0.05C, per decade. we just don’t know.

    Mathematician, Dr Paul Matthews puts this into perspective:

    When we hear, it’s the warmest year on record, the top ten years are this century..

    so what – it is 1 hundredths of a degree, because I can recall, and cite the press releases and government documentation, that we were strongly predicted to have temperature 0.3C higher, by now, and a rate of warming of 0.2C – 0.3 per decade or more.

    Richard Black has quite a good article (on the whole ) on ‘warmest’ year claims.. (James Hansen has said it is a bit of a nonsense as well – the ranking, to hundredths of a degree)

    Richard Black (at the European Climate Foundation funded – ECIU)

    “The third reason for caution is that not all global temperature records are the same. Methodologies vary – and so, therefore, do the exact conclusions.

    So while NOAA currently has 2014 as the warmest on record, NASA’s equally valid global dataset has it in second place. The third major record, maintained by the UK Met Office and the University of East Anglia, puts 2014 in third position.

    In addition, all of them come with margins of error. NOAA’s record for the year so far to October, for example, gives a margin of plus or minus 0.11C.

    By comparison, from the same record, the annual average temperatures for all the years between 2001 to 2013 fit within a range of 0.10C.

    Often, then, claims of record-breaking need to be caveated with words such as ‘probably’, ‘appear to be’ and ‘within limitations of the data’ – which automatically make them seem less than earth-shattering” – ECIU


    yes, the same lobby group (ECF) that fund the Carbon Brief (ex greenpeace – Christian Hunt, the editor) fund ex BBC Richard Black’s ECIU.. to show what a small eco-journo world it is. ex Guardian – Leo Hickman, currently in Peru as the WWF’s climate change advisor, is taking over the editor role of the Carbon Brief in January….

    1. Lao Tzu

      You ridiculous consirtacists see conspiracies everywhere, even someone with expertise moving from one job using it to another. And your job is? Your qualifications are?

      Scott: ‘mismanagement. Initially caused by hunter gatherers over hunting the huge herbivore herds’ where did you get that from? The huge berbivore herds in the American continent were intact despite thousands of years of hunter gatherers [native Americans ring any bells?], they were slaughtered wholesale by the white man to remove the ‘Indians’ sustenance; food, clothing, shelter, tools, weapons. Then you claim we ‘just’ need to change agriculture ‘to a model which sequesters carbon’ to reverse AGW – now I wonder why thousands of highly experienced scioentists haven’t thought of that! You could become a hero to all mankind you know, since you know how to sort the world out, suggest you address the UN next. But first learn about early humans and how they lived in balance with the environment, and perhaps a course on soils would benefit you.

    2. William Hughes-Games

      Sorry Lao, It just ain’t so

      When Europeans arrived in North America, they were amazed by the abundance of wild life compared to Europe. Massive flocks of passenger pigeons, huge herds of buffalo, lots of deer in the forests and meadows and so forth. What they didn’t realize is that these giant mono-cultures were a sign of an impoverished (in terms of number of species) ecosystem. The hunter gatherers who arrived about 12,000 or so years ago, rapidly ate their way through a number of species of camels, horses, elephants, a giant sloth a giant beaver and so forth. The same happened in Europe much earlier, in Madagascar as soon as man arrived, in Australia some 50,000 years ago and in New Zealand in the 1400’s. Early man completely impoverished the world in terms of any species that was large, reasonably easy to hunt and tasted good. Modern man continues to trash whole ecosystems. Look at the beginning of the following articles. Click on the references.

  5. Barry Woods

    The Met Office had data going back before 1910:

    precipitation and flooding in the South west (links to data included)


    “The record annual total of 1395mm was set in 2012, but this was only 3mm more than in 1960. Meanwhile, nothing much seems to be happening to the trend.

    The wettest group of years were between 1874 and 1883, when every single year was above 1000mm.”

    No Record according to satellites (similar to R Blacks concerns/article)



    1. toby52

      Satellites do not make the same measurement as the ground stations – they capture the temperature of the lower 5km of the atmosphere, not the surface. The satellite measurements are subject to even more adjustment than ground measurement – they use sensors that capture microwave emissions, and once launched cannot be easily calibrated.

      So there are bound to be differences, and suspicions.

      The UAH satellite people believe that the RSS measure is in error because of the orbital decay of the satellite, a mistake also made by UAH discovered 10 or so years ago. There are so many issues with satellite measurements that they come with a health warning. They are not the gold standard deniers pretend.

  6. Barry Woods

    so why did the Met office publish a paper that starts in 1910 ( a dip in precipitation) when they have data going back 40 years previously, (which was wetter) cynical might suggest they were trying to show a trend…



    Months with rainfall above 200mm (1860-2014)

    the links above state:


    All data from the Met Office


    1. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      Hi Barry – Well the key issues from the long-term dataset are mentioned in the text. I checked with the Met Office author and he reminded me that of course the CET and the EWP are open data so of course anyone can reproduce the results or do this for the full series at the regional scale – if you really believe the intent was to show some kind of trend rather than objectively present the data and then offer an interpretation. But the takeaway for me is that for CET 7 of 17 records in last 15 years, EWP 6 of 17 records in last 15 years. Adding in the previous centuries isn’t going to do much to that picture!


    2. Barry Woods

      put the ‘picture’ is pretty meaningless – is my point – just showing the context historically, seems to be well within variability, for a natural background gradual warming (CET) over the last 3 centuries or so.

      what do you think the ‘picture’ shows?

  7. Leo Smith

    Hmm. with records only going back 150 years you would expect them to be broken almost every week.

    Now as far as I know temperatures have never exceeded those in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, in the 20/21st century, or been below those of the last ice age either.

    Evidence of temperature variability is not evidence of human cause.

    The Green Blob constantly gushes out evidence of temperature variability and the dire consequences, imagined or real, of it.

    It has never come up with a consistent mechanism that links either to human activity, and the weight of evidence is that all the major changes in climate have occurred well beforehomo sapiens appeared on the planet.

    The only predictable thing in the climate is its unpredictability. Nature has no balance: just an onward evolutionary march into ecological conditions that favour adaptable species and condemn those unable to adapt to extinction.

    It remains to be seen whether homo ecologicus (verdanus)is fit to survive or not. I suspect its days are numbered, along with government sponsored climate scientists.

    1. Clyde Davies

      “It has never come up with a consistent mechanism that links either to human activity, and the weight of evidence is that all the major changes in climate have occurred well beforehomo sapiens appeared on the planet.”

      1827: Joseph Fourier calculates that the Earth would be much colder were it not for the warming influence of the atmosphere

      1850s: John Tyndall explained the heat in the Earth’s atmosphere in terms of the capacities of the various gases in the air to absorb radiant heat, also known as infrared radiation. His measuring device, which used thermopile technology, is an early landmark in the history of absorption spectroscopy of gases. He was the first to correctly measure the relative infrared absorptive powers of the gases nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour, carbon dioxide, ozone, methane, etc. (year 1859). He concluded that water vapour is the strongest absorber of radiant heat in the atmosphere and is the principal gas controlling air temperature. Absorption by the other gases is not negligible but relatively small.

      1896: Svante Arrhenius used the infrared observations of the moon by Frank Washington Very and Samuel Pierpont Langley at the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh to calculate the absorption of infrared radiation by atmospheric CO2 and water vapour. Using ‘Stefan’s law’ (better known as the Stefan-Boltzmann law), he formulated his greenhouse law. In its original form, Arrhenius’ greenhouse law reads as follows:

      if the quantity of carbonic acid [CO2] increases in geometric progression, the augmentation of the temperature will increase nearly in arithmetic progression.

      The following equivalent formulation of Arrhenius’ greenhouse law is still used today:

      Delta F = alpha ln(C/C_0)

      Here C is carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration measured in parts per million by volume (ppmv); C0 denotes a baseline or unperturbed concentration of CO2, and ΔF is the radiative forcing, measured in watts per square meter. The constant alpha (α) has been assigned a value between five and seven.

      Now, what was that nonsense about failing to come up with a ‘consistent mechanism’?

    2. Hans Erren

      Clyde: , you left two bits out: using Arrhenius’ equation properly the climate sensitivity is 1.1 degrees for CO2 doubling. Now that’s not catastrophic is it? And Arrhenius also was a lukewarmer. He was convinced that a warmer world is a better world. Of course: he was Swedish, they all go to the mediterranean in Summer.
      So please don’t bring up Arrhenius as authority on catastrophic warming.

    3. William Hughes-Games

      I think we perhaps pay too much attention to the actual number of degrees of warming. After all, if the climate over all was 2 degrees warmer, what harm would there be. Unfortunately for us, there seem to be some effects which will have positive feed backs (push it a little and it will go farther than you expected). Fortunately for us, there are lots of negative feed backs which are doing a magnificent job of keeping our climate pretty well stable despite our best efforts to destabilize it. However there is evidence that in the past, there have been rapid shifts when some natural push was too hard for the negative feed backs to cope with. One of the positive feed backs involves our old friend, Arctic ice. Weather is caused by the fact that most of the energy from the sun goes right through the atmosphere and warms it from below. In the classic, ice covered Arctic this doesn’t happen. Most of the radiation is shot right back into space, the air above the arctic radiates it’s heat into space, becomes heavy and sinks. This powers the Arctic Hadley cell and gives rise, with Coriolis, to the Polar Easterlies. (think of the cold air pouring on to your bare feet when you open the fridge door). Have a think what will happen when the Arctic is mostly open water for a couple of months in the summer and we now have the Arctic being heated from below. The conclusions are a tad disquieting.

    4. Scott

      Clever moving of the goal posts. Much like your previous post and the sly switch from weather to climate.

      Clyde commented on “It has never come up with a consistent mechanism that links either to human activity” and made a strong case of the mechanism, all science based.

      You move the goal post and then start talking about “catastrophic warming” which is not the same thing.

      Now “catastrophic warming” is potentially possible. Now way to know for certain because we are into new territory here. But that is very different than proving AGW is real. That’s an observable fact. How catastrophic it will be considering we have damaged 1/2 the planets ecosystems already with agriculture? Hard to say for sure. One ecosystem function of the biome is to buffer climatic effects like this, and we have no previous data to compare against where humans destroyed the ecology first then triggered the warming. No one really knows.

      What we do know is that the damages we have done to the environment have actually released more CO2 than fossil fuels. So it is very likely we could reach a tipping point where the ecosystem buffers can no longer protect us from runaway warming. It’s possible.

    5. Clyde Davies

      @Scott: quite. The science is well established, and there is a well-proven train of cause and effect between our activity and global warming. The climate is behaving pretty much as expected given the three key findings that I have pointed out.

      So Leo’s talk about an absence of ‘consistent mechanism’ is utter garbage. If you want to deny the current realities of climate change then you have to unpick the whole train of argument going all the way back to Fourier and then write your own that explains what we observe as effectively. This hasn’t happened yet and isn’t going to. It’s rather like a conceptual equivalent of Bitcoin’s ‘blockchain’: rewriting scientific history is nigh impossible.

      And as for Hans’ assertion that 1.1 C is not catastrophic, well we’ll have to wait and see won’t we? Current projections estimate that we’ll see at least double that, as climate science has moved on since Arrhenius. This is in the nature of science: it accommodates newer findings into its reasoning and refines its predictions.

      As for me, I pretty much like the world as it is and would not be prepared to risk catastrophe. If you want to gamble, Hans, do so with your own planet.

    6. Hans Erren

      I am not aware of changing goal posts? You are the one withe the scary scenario’s. “If 12 billion people all will be using coal”has two explicit and two implicit assumptions build in. The implicit assumptions are that the airborne fraction soon will increase dramatically, which has not been observed, and that climate sensitivity must be high, which only exists in falsified climate models. So in summary you are scared of science fiction scenario’s.

      Don’t blame me for “wrecking the planet”. I am in favour of changing to nuclear, but the greens won’t listen. Also try convincing the chinese as well, they go for fossil for the next 15 years.

    7. Scott

      You said, “I am not aware of changing goal posts?”. I am happy to make you aware. AGW is one thing, shifting to “catastrophic warming”, when you can’t refute AGW, is shifting the goalpost.

      There are plenty of arguments that we are indeed causing catastrophic damages to the environment. In fact many scientists are of the opinion that we are in the middle of a manmade extinction event as large as the big 5 (Cretaceous–Paleogene, Triassic–Jurassic, Permian–Triassic, Late Devonian, Ordovician–Silurian extinction events) The proposed name of the extinction even we are currently experiencing is Anthropocene.

      In this context AGW is not the cause, but instead the result of ecological destruction combined with the excessive burning of fossil fuels. AGW not being catastrophic by itself, but instead the environmental damage caused by agriculture being catastrophic.

      AGW is a symptom of ecological damages so severe the moderating effect of biological systems on the planet are significantly reduced. AGW is a symptom, not a cause. The “consistent mechanism that links” is increased carbon emissions due to burning fossil fuels combined with the destruction of entire ecosystems that sequester excess carbon. Combined it is increasing atmospheric CO2, which in turn is changing the climate.

    8. William Hughes-Games

      Right on the money in your reply. There is no question that we haven’t yet reached the highs or the lows of previous ages but what that commentator fails to realize is that we have been in a peculiar period of stable climate over the rise of so called civilization. Some scientists think that we have been responsible for this. We think of so called primitive people as little tribes here and there that had little effect on the climate and yet they wiped out the megafauna of every country that they arrived at. The also burnt down whole forests. Be that as it may, when an organism lives in a very stable environment such as we have been blessed with, it adapts more and more closely to that environment. Civilizations ditto. Suddenly introduce un-stability and that population will suffer much more than a population that has lived for generations in an unstable environment. Our civilization is so tuned to our present climate and so dependent on the next industrial harvest that perturbations that interfere with this will cause massive disruptions. Many think that the Arab Spring was triggered by the small downturn in the yield of the Russian wheat crop. Just imagine one year with the whole Northern Hemisphere harvest greatly reduced. Man won’t go extinct. We are like cockroaches; very hard to exterminate, but like many civilizations before us, our civilization will collapse. The difference this time is that our civilization is not in small pockets here and there around the world but is world wide. In a few hundred years, they will look back on us the way we look at the mythical Atlanteans.

    9. Andrew Gould

      The PETM occurred at the boundary between the Palaeocene and Eocene time periods (55.8 million years ago) where a rapid change in climate took place. It lasted around two million years and it is thought that there was a massive release of carbon to the ocean and atmosphere causing a significant global warming.

      So as Leo correctly points out, we have a massive change in temperature not caused by humans. However, what could have happened was an example of a positive feedback mechanism. Temperature goes up (from some other cause), then CO2 gets released, then temperature goes up further, more CO2 gets released and you end up in a feedback loop leading to higher and higher temperatures. The initial trigger 55.8 million years ago was not caused by humans. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be triggering it this time.

  8. Bob Koss

    Not enough information given with those temperature graphs. Are those records by month? If so, my eyeball says there appears to be about 33-36 locations considered. Are those individual stations or areas of the country? How did they handle ties? Is the time-frame equal in all cases? Records over fewer years are easier to break.

    In any case the graph starts the first decade of the 20th century, so the long records prior to that evidently aren’t considered. Here is a graph I created a couple years ago of the somewhat larger US, starting in 1880, which shows the 50 state temperature records. They were all around and recording even if they weren’t actually states in 1880. It presents a rather different view of things.


  9. Jeff Walther

    I don’t think it really matters whether people accept the evidence of climate change or not. As long as the public believes that wind and solar electric generation are the solutions to climate change, it does not matter, because they do not work as a means of reducing CO2 emissions.

    Imagine, if everyone suddenly became very concerned about CO2 emissions and atmopheric and oceanic concentrations of same, and wanted to devote society’s resources to managing CO2, but we then proceeded to imitate Germany’s abject failure and just build more and more useless, expensive wind and solar installations. We would squander our capital resources, drive up the cost of our electricity and utterly fail to reduce CO2 emissions.

    So, as long as the societal “wisdom” is that wind and solar are the solution to CO2 emissions, it really does not matter one wit, whether anyone at all believes in anthropocentric climate change.

    Now imagine if we could convince everyone that nuclear electricity generation is the cleanest, safest, most affordable and most sustainable method of energy generation known to man.

    Again, it wouldn’t matter whether anyone believed in climate change, because the real world advantages of using nuclear power are so huge, just in terms of eliminating coal pollution and the scores of people killed every year by natural gas accidents, that we would put a massive effort into converting to nuclear power generation just on the basis of it’s mundane advantages.

    We were converting to nuclear just on the basis of its mundane advantages until a well funded, massive propaganda compaign spread verifiable lies about nuclear power.

    So, it seems backwards, putting the solution before the acceptance of the problem statement, but in the real world, it matters not at all if people believe in climate change, what matters is whether they understand the facts about the one workable solution and see how that solution is also a solution to so many other ills, that even absent a CO2 problem, we should be building nuclear reactors as fast as society can fund them.

  10. John Wood

    Nice questions, but chaos theory reminds us that meteorology will never be as simple or consistent as meteorological data. Evidence-based science is always post-hoc and an insufficient basis for policy, by itself.

    Science only gives us truth-claims that invite falsification by competing truth-claimers.In order to get beyond beyond this stage (i.e. to stop talking and do something) we need to make wise decisions. These must be shaped by imagined futures (rather than evidence alone).

    Our visionless democracies need to ask themselves how our societies would like to live (beyond carbon), then to design our cities and lifestyles accordingly.

    Precautionary policies are cheaper than waiting for 100% certainty concerning what is happening.

  11. Amanda Stone

    Novice coming in here – and just to be very clear I am sceptical (with great doubts) of any ideas that climate change is connected to the activity of humans.

    But, doesn’t the question still stand – “(the) current interglacial has already lingered about a thousand years beyond its normal duration…one should wonder what can be forestalling the onset of the next ice age”?

    reference: https://www.academia.edu/670048/Significance_of_Solar_Variability_and_Milankovi%C4%87_Cycles_in_the_Current_Global_Temperature_Trends_draft_

    1. John Russell

      If you’re going to suggest that the current rapid increase in temperature is caused by a natural cycle, such as the Earth coming out of an ice age, then you first have some explaining to do.

      Taking into consideration the known and accepted ‘green house effect’, which has a solid basis in physics, how can adding enough CO2 to the atmosphere over the last couple of centuries to raise concentrations from 280ppm to the current 400ppm not have warmed the planet by 0.7C over the same period?

      I shall offer an analogy. If a person at the scene of a traffic accident tells you that the injured pedestrian lying in the road was hit by a passing bus that drove off; shouldn’t—before they go into details of the bus—they be asked what caused the person-sized, bloody dent in the bonnet (hood) of their car?

    2. Eduardo Ferreyra

      You forgot your medication, John… Amanda has suggested nothing of the sort. She just reminded us that the warming phase of climate cycles, known as the Holocene, has ultra passed about 100 years its normal natural ending. Which is true. And your analogy sucks, because there is some factor you didn’t consider in the street accident scene: Was the bus who hit the pedestrian? Or it was the pedestrian that jumped and hit the bus? The effect is the same: a bump on the hood, but the cause is quite different.

      Politicians, lawyers and other feeble minded people will always jump to a conclusion that favors their business and/or agenda.

      Furthermore, the greenhouse effect you take as accepted, is not accepted by many others. “Greenhouse” is a bad term to call the warming caused on air temperatures by the sun, by the surface radiation, and by radiation from other gases in the atmosphere. In our planet there are convection currents that don’t exist inside a greenhouse. The atmosphere is neither a blanket, because it is constantly radiating energy to outer space. Our climate system is not a closed systema as a greenhouse but a very open one.

      And the solid basic in physics you mention it has been put into reconsideration by the same IPCC AR5, when it reduced the CO2 forcing from 2.5 to 1.5 w/m2. They were wrong then, they may even be wrong now… again.

      When you consider that during the Cambrian or Ordovician periods temperatures were about 3ºC higher than now, but CO2 levels ranged during millions of years from 2000 to 7000 ppmv, then the meager increase of 20 to 400 ppmv can only add some thousands of a degree to the natural warming that happens every 12,000 (take or add a few centuries). But you should read Monin et al., paper, (Science 2000) from where comes out very clearly that during the last glacial termination, temperatures rose first and CO2 levels followed with a 660-800 years lag.

      Atmospheric CO2 Concentrationsover the Last Glacial Termination


      Eric Monnin,1* , Andreas Indermühle,1 André Dällenbach,1 Jacqueline Flückiger,1; Bernhard Stauffer,1 Thomas F. Stocker,1 Dominique Raynaud,2 Jean-Marc Barnola2

      A record of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration during the transition from the Last Glacial Maximum to the Holocene, obtained from the Dome Concordia, Antarctica, ice core, reveals that an increase of 76 parts per million by volume occurred over a period of 6000 years in four clearly distinguishable intervals. The close correlation between CO2 concentration and Antarctic temperature indicates that the Southern Ocean played an important role in causing the CO2 increase. However, the similarity of changes in CO2 concentration and variations of atmospheric methane concentration suggests that processes in the tropics and in the Northern Hemisphere, where the main sources for methane are located, also had substantial effects on atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

      * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


      The main feature of the CO2 record (Fig. 1) is an increase from a mean value of 189 ppmv between 18.1 and 17.0 ky B.P. (19) to a mean value of 265 ppmv between 11.1 and 10.5 ky B.P. (beginning of the Holocene).

      To define the points at which temperature and CO2 began to rise, we selected the crossing points of linear fits of the records and obtained ages of 17,000 ± 200 years for the start of the CO2 increase and 17,800 ± 300 years for the start of the D increase. We found that the start of the CO2 increase thus lagged the start of the D increase by 800 ±600 years, taking the uncertainties of the gas-ice age difference and the determination of the increases into account. This agrees with the estimates found in the ice cores from Taylor Dome and Byrd (10).

      Conclusion: temperatures rose first, CO2 did it later with a 600-800 year lag.

      Now, it is not Amanda who has to do some explaining, but it is you who should refute Monin et al. paper, or my comments here.

    3. William Hughes-Games

      A niggly worry about the small temperature change so far comes from various ice cores and the ongoing analysis of the mud cores from El’gygytgyn. It seems as if the climate is like a light switch. You push against the spring in the light switch and the lights stay just as they are. When you exceed a certain level of push, the switch suddenly switches and the lights change suddenly. Giya is fighting back but at some point, if the cores are any indication, she will switch to a new “normal” and the crops o the world, which are very closely tuned to our present climate will fail.

    4. John Russell

      Very clever, @Eduardo, but by questioning the greenhouse effect you reveal what you are: in denial.

    5. Eduardo Ferreyra

      So what? What’s wrong with denying the flawed conclusions of climate models and the general hypothesis of CAGW? After all, I do not deny science as you do. You deny that there are natural climate cycles, that the sun is the main driver of Earth’s climate, that the Jovian cycles affect and drive sun’s activity, and so on… you seem to like posting logical fallacies here, don’t you? Red herrings, strawmen, appeal to authority, the consensu fallacy, and some more.

      Now bring real science to the forum and we’ll debate it. Abstain from posting propaganda, urban myths or half truths.

    6. Scott

      “Conclusion: temperatures rose first, CO2 did it later with a 600-800 year lag.”

      What’s to refute? This is called a positive feedback. That’s the fear many climatologists have been trying to repeatedly explain. If we should reach a tipping point with our human released greenhouse gasses, then there is a danger that the higher temps and melting permafrost will release far more CO2 and potentially cause runaway warming. This data doesn’t refute the greenhouse effect or any other natural warming or cooling cycle for that matter, it suggests the possibility that we humans could cause a cascading event far larger than the simple CO2 we released ourselves.

    7. Eduardo Ferreyra

      This is no positive feedback. Some not well understood factor, but quite possible an increase in solar magnetic activity, caused the temperatures to being an increase, but clearly it was NOT an increase in CO2. That’s well understood in Monnin’s study. Then, oceans began to warm slowly and their capacity to hold or absorb CO2 began to reduce. CO2 started to come out of the oceans, but with a lag in 600-800 years due to the ocean’s huge thermal inertia.

      But you make a common mistake: believe what Hansen or Al Gore said. There can NEVER be a runaway warming. In the entire Earth’s history there has NEVER been such an event, not even when CO2 levels were in the 2600 – 7000 ppmv range. But there has been what can be called a runaway COOLING during the times of the so called “Snowball Earth”. In case you just want to study paleogeology, you will see that periods of rapid warming and rapid cooling are abundant, such as those at the end of the last glaciation –(Dansgaard-Oeschger events, the Younger Dryas, etc).


      But since 600 million years ago, since the Cambric period until now, average global temperatures have never been above 23º C, and Earth had the most enjoyable climate, huge jungles and forests, life exploded on its surface –with some big extinctions too. When CO2 levels began to decrease, vegetal life suffered because its food was getting scarce. Vegetal life simply adore CO2 of 1000 and up.

      Please, take a tour in the link at the bottom, and see what was like during those ancient eras. Geologist R.S. Scotese, PH.D. website is full of undisputed information. But be warned: Scotese is a real and honest scientist and you’ll find claims as this one:

      “Climate change is controlled primarily by cyclical eccentricities in Earth’s rotation and orbit, as well as variations in the sun’s energy output. — “Greenhouse gases” in Earth’s atmosphere also influence Earth’s temperature, but in a much smaller way. Human additions to total greenhouse gases play a still smaller role, contributing about 0.2% – 0.3% to Earth’s greenhouse effect.”


      Enjoy a new perspective in your life!

    8. Amanda Stone

      This discussion is really interesting and I am trying to understand some of the links – not being a scientist I am a bit disadvantaged there though.

      As I do not believe the contribution of humans to be a major factor in climate change (my belief of course – can’t categorically say that) I am particularly drawn to the very good link by Scotese – excellently presented and understandable to the non scientist.

      I would of course be drawn to that particular document because it helps to support my thinking and beliefs but then I am not a scientist or expert. The real challenge for scientists and experts is, I guess, to put aside their beliefs and look at the evidence. We all know that Galileo is a good example of a chastised scientist whose evidence was twisted and refuted because his observations did not meet with commonly accepted beliefs. As an ordinary person I feel that the climate issue is kind of similar – the scientific community seems not interested in looking at the evidence properly but sifts it to suit their purpose. This is surely not the role of science.

      I am also quite surprised by insults being slung around here which seem to indicate a level of emotion which should only be reserved for our love lives! Insults do not enhance the discussion. Passion, I think, is fine and can enhance scientific endeavour but emotion only serves to distort.

      But this discussion is great to follow in any case.

    9. William Hughes-Games

      Something from mountain climbing is instructive here. It is called exposure. You may be in a climbing club at their climbing wall doing some very difficult boldering with a thick mat under you. Exposure zero. On the other hand you may be on a ridge in the mountains walking along with your 10 year old son skipping along on a very easy path. The drop off on either side is huge. Exposure massive.

      Climate change shares an element of this. The risk involved if the scientists are correct is massive.

      There is evidence in the ice and mid cores from many many locations that when pushed by various “natural” events the climate has changed suddenly and in ways that to our civilization would be catastrophic. If our push causes the same thing to happen, it could make the two world wars plus repeated starvations around the world pale into insignificance. There are good indications that we are heading this way.

      Continental glaciers in almost all locations are disappearing. Ice is being lost from Greenland and Antarctica. The west antarctic ice sheet appears to be in the process of an irreversible collapse. The oceans are warming as recorded by the Argo array of floating probes, Our 10 warmest recorded years ever have occurred since 2000, Climate zones are moving north (in the northern hemisphere) at about a km per year, Bud burst is happening earlier and earlier at many locations, Methane is bubbling out of the Arctic ocean in larger and larger amounts and from the thawing tundra and on and on the list goes.

      However we still haven’t had the climate flick to a new regime. So far it has been gradual. A little like pushing on a light switch. As you apply more and more pressure nothing happens until you reach that critical amount and the light switches.

      Even if all the scientists are wrong the consequences are far to dire to do nothing.

  12. William Hughes-Games

    I don’t think anyone denies the natural climate cycles. It is well established that they occur and that the sum of the three Milankovitch effects correlates very well with observed changes. The trouble is that the sum of these three cycles is in a pretty well neutral phase right now and without man’s influence, we would not be in for significant warming or cooling. What is left to explain the observed results is man’s influence.

  13. Amanda Stone

    Oh dear – SORRY – think my last comment might have gone in the wrong thread! Is meant as a general comment! Don’t know how to undo. As you can see I am not a computer scientist either. 🙂

  14. Andrew Gould

    Some really interesting facts coming out in this thread. One of the graphs that I’d love someone to explain is Al Gore’s famous CO2 and Temp plotted against time, but restated to remove the time dimension.
    See it here: http://newswithnumbers.com/2009/06/01/gores-graph-done-right

    The interpretation of this is interesting. The CO2 vs Temp looks pretty much linear. Whether you believe that temperature causes CO2 levels to rise or vice versa is not the question I am asking. You have to admit that they go up together in a fairly linear fashion. True there are considerable variations that can no doubt be explained by eccentricity and wobbles of the Earth’s orbit, volcanoes, solar flares, or whatever. But there is one outlier temperature vs CO2 point which is way off to the right…and that is the year 2000 reading. Why is that point on the graph so far off the trend?
    Why isn’t the temperature much higher?
    If it was on the trend of the graph it wouldn’t be +0.7 degrees centigrade as it is today, it would be plus TEN degrees.

    One theory is that there is some brand new regulating system that is preventing it, that has never been there before in the last 700000 years. What is that new regulating system?

    An alternative theory is that we in a state of unstable equilibrium and it is only a matter of time before we get to plus ten degrees. Has anyone run the computer models beyond 2100 up to say 2200?

    Now I read Mark Lynas’ book and + 6 degrees appears to be catastrophic.
    Could it really go to plus 10 degrees in a couple of hundred years?

    1. Scott

      The moderating effects are the oceans and biological systems.

  15. Andrew


    …presumably the moderating control mechanism you talk about is increased CO2 encourages plant life in oceans and on land, which absorbs more CO2 and eventually brings the temperature under control again?
    What is worrying, is whatever control mechanism is in place, it has been the same control mechanism that has been present for the last 700000 years. What we are seeing is a temporary blip. The warming is a lot less than it should be because there has been no time to adjust, a mere 100 years or less. The best analogy I can come up with is if you turn on a heater in a greenhouse and set it to fixed level, then measure the temperature 5 minutes later, then the temperature won’t have gone up much. Leave it for an hour and the temperature will have gone up by a few degrees. Leave it for a few more hours and the temperature will level off. The extra heat from your fan heater will exactly match the heat lost through the glass and you reach stable equilibrium.

    In planetary terms, the ‘fan heater’ is the CO2 warming effect, the controlling mechanism is the extra plant life absorbing the CO2. On top of all this are the other effects that have always been there: wobble of the earth’s axis, changes in the path of our orbit, volcanoes and solar activity. Yes I know this is simplistic, and would welcome some more scientific analysis of that graph, or even an alternative theory that says it wont be nearly as bad as that graph makes out!

    Certainly the experts seem to be talking about +4 to +5C by 2100, so the ‘business as usual’ scenario could well be +10C a couple of hundred year later. Worrying! Fortunately I won’t be around then.

    1. Scott


      This is the buffering effect that was lost when the world’s grasslands were largely destroyed due to mismanagement. Initially caused by hunter gatherers over hunting the huge herbivore herds, then massively accelerated by the plow.

      The solution now that 40% of the worlds total land surface is currently in agriculture is simply to change agriculture to a model that sequesters carbon. Do that and the lost ecosystem services will be restored, including cycling and storing the carbon in the soils and reversing AGW.

  16. Lao Tzu

    ‘if climate change were being felt, you would naturally expect more hot records than cold records’

    Really? That shows just how much you know and understand. Sounds like the denier chortle ‘It’s snowing, so much for global warming’ we STILL hear from the numpties.

    Extremes of either hot or cold are likely to be common. The climate is a dynamic, chaotic system, constantly self-regulating with feedbacks, energy being absorbed and radiated. Tipping points could account for speed up of energy transfer to oceans. Extreme evaporation inevitably means extreme precipitation, which can be rain, sleet or snow depending on what’s happening in the levels they are forming.
    I have never expected more hot than cold, the degree rise, as you book 6 Degrees explained [?] is minute, currentlky heading for 2 degrees, but on a global scale that’s a vast amount of energy.

    You’re not going after funding from big oil to add to Monsanto and the Nuclear Industry are you?


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